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Indonesia’s Gili Islands: A Quiet Kind of Rush Hour

By Dave Fox
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

I would like to apologize for some misinformation on this website last week. My wife, who shall remain anonymous, mistakenly told me that in the Gili Islands, Indonesia, ox carts are the primary means of transportation. It turns out this is not true. The carts are powered by horses, not oxen.

Horse carts on the island of Gili Trawangan, IndonesiaIn the interest of total accuracy, I should also note I am not 100 percent certain my anonymous wife told me this. It is possible she said “horse cart.” I might have faltered from my usual practice of listening extremely closely to EVERY SINGLE WORD she utters, and changed the word “horse” to “ox” in my cluttered mind.

In any case, last Wednesday, we flew, with four friends, to Bali, where we then caught a speedboat to Gili Trawangan, the most bustling of these three small Indonesian islands. When we arrived, horse carts were waiting to take us to our accommodations. Oxen were not an option.

Horseless carts in front of the Gili Trawangan police station

Horseless carts in front of the Gili Trawangan police station — technically ready to roll into action and chase down bad guys.

Motorized vehicles are illegal in the Gilis. No cars. No motorbikes. No tuktuks. Outside the police station, a row of horse carts waits, lined up, ready to rush to the scene of an urgent crime, assuming the cops can find a horse to attach the cart to.

The horses that pull the carts are decorated with small, brightly colored plumes and tassels, as well as some badass-looking, studded leather face gear. The carts can seat up to four humans, provided those humans know each other well enough to be comfortable with each other’s knees lodged in each other’s armpits.

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia: If horse carts aren't your thing, your other transportation option is bicycle rental.

If horse carts aren’t your thing, your other transportation option is bicycle rental.

To cut down on collisions, most carts come equipped with old-school, squeeze-bulb, honka honka bicycle horns, and jingling sleighbells, which cast a Christmas-like atmosphere over these tropical, predominantly Muslim islands.

If you need a ride, you can do one of the following:

1)      Flag one down like you would hail a taxi.

2)      Go to one of the central horse cart stops. There you will find around 20 drivers, most of whom are extremely busy smoking cigarettes and will argue over who has to get up and give you a ride.

3)      Call their central dispatch. In addition to the aforementioned, high-tech collision avoidance systems, the carts are equipped with two-way radios. (They do not, however, have GPS, so be sure you know which direction you need to go on the one road around the island.)

Traffic-free islands are rare these days. They are quiet places that harken back to simpler times. While they might sound idyllic, they are not without hardships. All building supplies, major pieces of furniture, cases of booze for the plethora of bars, and everything else on the island must be hauled in without motorized vehicles. Food delivery (yes, it exists) takes a little longer. Also, there are no ice skating rinks; Zambonis are illegal too.

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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